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New UNLV program helps fast track CCSD support staff toward teachership

Teacher, elementary school, kids, female
AP Photo/John Locher
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Kermit R. Booker Sr. Elementary School teacher in Las Vegas.

From teacher shortages to lack of resources, the Clark County School District’s struggles are nothing new. 

Which is why the "Paraprofessional Pathways Project" at UNLV is working on getting CCSD more teachers fast. 

Paraprofessionals are essentially teacher assistants who are not yet licensed. The Pathways Project’s goal is to speed up the process of getting a teaching license. 

Dr. Kenneth Varner, one of the professors in the project, says the program grew from changing legislation, Senate Bill 352. 

"How can we accommodate and do so without having them have to leave their jobs? That's been the biggest hurdle for a lot of paraprofessionals. To complete student teaching, you would have to not be employed. And that's just really not feasible for a lot of folks," he said.  

The program, which started with 36 students, helped relieve those issues. Varner said the program grew to 69 students, divided between early childhood, special education and elementary school.

"Public schools throughout Nevada have a great resource in paraprofessionals and school support professionals who are already working in schools. They're committed, they have a vision for why they're doing that work," he said. "Our goal is recruiting, preparing but also retaining."

Students join the program with at least 60 credits, or an associate degree. 

"I think what inspires me the most is to know that our kids, especially in elementary education, they need that foundation, and they need that person that will care for them since the beginning and help them develop, you know, the love for education," said Maria Romero with the program.

According to CCSD, about 12% of teachers leave after their first year. After five years, nationally, 44% of teachers leave.

Varner says retention is key. 

"One of the things I think that we really want to key into with all of our students, and that's absolutely true of folks in the paraprofessional Pathways Project, is knowing the why. Why is it that you're doing this work? What's the impact that you're trying to make? How do you move Nevada forward in the work as a teacher? And so that when you get frustrated, when you run into an experience where the thing you're doing just isn't working, and you have to pivot to something else, you're grounded in knowing why it is that you want to do this work," he said.

Dr. Kenneth Varner, professor in the teacher and learning department, UNLV; Maria Romero, coordinator, Jobs for Nevada's Graduates Program 

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Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.